This Saturday at noon, 40,000 people will be there to watch the 3-3 Panthers take on the always overrated, never anticipated Scarlett Knights. Pitt did what it had to do last week and dominated a weak Syracuse team. This week the Panthers should do the same.
Rutgers comes in with an over inflated record of 4-2 having beat teams such as Army and Norfolk State while dropping games to UNC and the powerhouse Tulane Green Wave. The most striking thing about Rutgers record is that most of their games are extremely close. All of their games against teams not named Norfolk State have all been decided by a touchdown or less.
If Rutgers plays Pitt close, then I do not like our chances. We typically do not fare too well in close scoring games. This plus the fact that Schiano has really dominated Wanny over the past few years does lead to some cause for concern (but not too much).
The thing you'll hear most about this week is Eric LeGrand who suffered a very serious injury leading to him becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Pitt is taking the right approach by having students and fans sign a well wishing banner. I am sure everyone has the same attitude as me where an athlete in this situation is much bigger than the game. I really do hate Rutgers, most of their fans, and pretty much the entire state of New Jersey, but I hope that Eric is able to recover to the best of his ability and hope that this does not limit his life or future in any way.
The Pitt students from 2006 and on really have been much better about showing class in many different situations for all sports. You don't see too many incidents like Chris Quinn or Chris Thomas, heck even the F*** The (insert opponents name here) chants have taken a backseat in the past years. I know the students will do their best to cheer for the Panthers and not do anything tasteless in reference to the current situation.
Back to the game, the real question I have is which Dr. Jeckyl or Mr. Hyde team will this Panther squad be? Will we be the team that plays fearless and has the chance to be successful like we did against Utah and Syracuse, or will we come out in a shell and not perform as needed to earn the win like we saw versus Miami and Notre Dame.
The tough thing about the 2010 Panthers is that there really isn't a way to know which squad will come out. A down and out Panther squad beat favorite Cincy at home when all hope was looking lost for the season in 2007. We also saw the 6-1 2006 squad get blown out at home to Rutgers ending our season with 5 straight losses and no bowl.
We will see the good Panthers this week if we are able to do the following items.
1. Stick with the hot running back. We don't need to worry about Dion or Ray's feelings. The running back who is having the most success should get the bulk of the carries.
2. Don't allow Rutgers to throw all over us. Every player in our secondary not named Jared Holley has really not performed as needed. The defensive backfield has been a huge question mark for Pitt under Wanny and if we can't stop the pass, we can't win the game.
3. Don't stall out on 3rd downs. This is a simple one to figure out. Most teams lose games when they aren't able to convert on 3rd down. This means running routes to the sticks on passing plays and not the "safe" dump play or draw.
4. Pressure Chas Dodd. Most people thought Tom Savage would be leading Rutgers for years, but Dodd has made the most of his chances this year. If we are able to knock down the passer early, we should be able to limit his performance.
The bad Pitt will be present if:
1. We rely on our linebackers to stay in single coverage against 3 or 4 wide receiver sets.
2. We need Tino to carry us on his back throughout the game. The young quarterback isn't ready yet in this season to win a game by himself. This basically means don't let Rutgers get out to a big and early lead.
3. The defensive line does not get pressure. We are build to destroy the line of scrimmage, and if our front 4 rushers can not contain the line to stop the run and get to Dodd, then we are in trouble as you know we won't blitz all that often to make up for the DLine struggles should they be present.
4. We continue to have penalty problems. Every game this season has seen Pitt making too many mental mistakes. Even last week we were committing too many penalties (even if they were coming late in the 4th quarter).
This is a game Pitt should win (and I hate typing that), but with Rutgers and Schiano you never know. The hopeful future Penn State coach seems to have Wanny's number and can always implement a new scheme or idea which we aren't ready for (remember the "we didn't expect them to pass" excuse?).
I say Pitt wins this one easily by a score of 28 to 17.